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Kiski Valley rugby team picks program to emulate

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Kiski Valley rugby player Kris Smith (left) defends the ball from Jordan Degeore during a Kiski Valley practice Monday, March 11, 2013, at Kennedy Park in Vandergrift.
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Kiski Valley rugby coach Seth Erwin keeps an eye on practice held at Kennedy Park in Vandergrift on Monday March 11, 2013.

As Kiski Valley Rugby enters its inaugural season, one thing is certain: The club will have formidable competition from its neighboring program.

Kiski Valley can learn a thing or two from 2010 state champion Burrell, which boasts a 53-9 record in its eight-year existence.

Kiski Valley coach Seth Erwin has seen, what Burrell has done to become successful; he was an assistant with the Buckheads from 2009-12.

“What I learned there was to teach new players efficiently and quick enough to where they are ready to start a season,” Erwin said. “Just watching how (Burrell coach Ron Zanella) approached it with rookies was a huge learning experience.”

Erwin has set a simple yet lofty goal for his team.

“The first season, I want to be competitive,” Erwin said. “I don't want to be a normal first-year program that comes in and gets beat by every team they play. We want to feel the competitive side. It's shooting high, but I'd like to make (the state tournament).

“Even being in the tournament would be a huge success with ultimately rookies.”

Kiski Valley plays in RugbyPA's Under-19 league which allows it to pull players from different schools such as Kiski Area, Leechburg, Kittanning and Apollo-Ridge. The team is led by junior eight man Kris Smith, Kiski Area junior and fly-half player Andrew Carson and senior scrum-half player Brandon Fairman.

Kiski Valley's style of play will mirror Burrell's, according to Erwin.

“We are going to come straight at you, and you have to stop us,” Erwin said. “It's more of a smash-mouth type of rugby.”

The thought of starting a team began when Erwin was approached by a few students who showed interest in the sport. Seventeen committed players later — and with the backing of the Kiski Valley Lancers youth football board — Kiski Valley Rugby was born.

Kiski Valley and Burrell met once in a friendly, with Burrell prevailing, 5-0. The two teams will square off again April 12 during the regular season.

“It's a friendly rivalry,” Zanella said. “It's a kind of rivalry where you can joke around before the game, then play, then joke around after.”

Leading the way for the Buckheads will be senior eight man Matt Hess, senior hooker Corey Klems and junior fly-half Nick Kastelik.

Burrell is missing six starters because of basketball and wrestling, and according to Zanella is in a state of transition. The team has only two returning starters.

The biggest challenge, Zanella said, is getting the missing players into rugby form when they return.

Kiski Valley will open league play March 22 against South Hills. Burrell begins league competition April 5 against Woodland Hills.

D.J. Vasil is a freelance writer.

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